It was pickles that brought us together, Joe and me. Joe is Joe McClure, one half of the brotherly team responsible for the now ubiquitous family-named McClure’s Pickles, ingredient of the moment in toastie towns around the country.

I first met Joe when he was in New Zealand a few years back fulfilling a role as finals’ judge for the Cook & Nelson-instigated Great New Zealand Toastie Takeover. Because of that I knew of McClure’s before I knew Joe. I was, and remain, the head judge while Joe signed off on the sponsorship deal brokered by Cook & Nelson as a way of growing consumer awareness of the McClure’s flagship product, pickles being an essential ingredient in every Toastie Takeover entry.

The provenance of McClure’s began with a recipe handed down by their great-grandmother Lala. Pickling was an annual family affair that involved Joe and his siblings, including brother Bob, from the time they were toddlers. Highly anticipated jars of pickles were handed out to family and friends and eventually to a couple of restaurants, at one time finding their way into a number of New York eateries and onto the favoured pages of US food media. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today the brothers, their family and friends have a business employing more than 30 staff responsible for bottling in excess of two million jars of pickles each year. A surprisingly sizeable proportion of those jars is finding its way to Australia and New Zealand via Cook & Nelson, which pleases Joe because he loves this country. He also loves classical music, running and Ira Glass at Radio Lab. Within the team Joe is in charge of the big production matters, sales and distribution and looking after his favourite New Zealand market.

For his part, brother Bob is an accomplished actor and classical guitarist and has responsibility for food-brand development and key account management in the business.

In 2006 the boys took a punt and set up business in both Brooklyn, New York, and Detroit, Michigan. Three years later they moved the entire shebang to a bigger, more suitable 1900-square-metre plant in a converted former Ford axle factory in their home town in Michigan (which happens to be one of the largest cucumber growing states in the United States).

Joe will tell you, “All our products are natural, gluten-free and kosher. We use as much local produce as possible when it is in season, and when it’s not we call up the farms and speak directly with the growers to know where our produce is coming from and how it is being grown, making sure we are getting some of the best, freshest produce available. Every jar is hand packed by one of our talented team members.”

Ask him if the Toastie Takeover is shifting sales forward and he doesn’t hesitate. “New Zealand is not the biggest market but we have developed a really pleasing market share and that is absolutely due to Kiwis’ appreciation of our product and the huge public interest that the Toastie Takeover has achieved.

“We don’t do anything similar anywhere else because of the logistics involved but here it has been a runaway success from our perspective and long may it continue.” ■

Cook & Nelson is offering Cuisine
readers 15% off McClure’s and more
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Just enter the discount code
‘15CUISINE’ at checkout for a
15% discount site-wide.